Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Living with Mary

Here's hope for those of you who struggle with a child who seems completely morally flawed: Jo is driving me crazy with her seeming perfection lately. It's gotten so bad that I feel sometimes like I am living with Mary from "Little House on the Prairie."

Oh, don't be coy--you know what I mean. You always identified with Laura, right? Spunky Laura, who always wanted to do right, but somehow let her anger or frustration or just plain curiousity get the best of her. No matter how well intentioned she started out, by the end of the chapter, there's Pa, looking down at her with those understanding eyes and giving her that legendary gentle correction.

And then there's Mary. Mary always does what's right. She may have a battlefield of temptation going on in her mind, but that girl just never steps outside of the box, does she? She's all "Yes, ma'am" and "No, Sir" and "For shame, Laura!" Her dress is always clean and she's quite content sitting beside Ma even on the sunniest day, being helpful and suppressing the urge to run in the creek or roll in the grass.

That Mary. ((sigh)) I was never a Mary. Were you?

I never thought Jo would be a Mary, either. To be honest, when she was 5 years old, I was fairly certain that I would be fighting an uphill battle with that child for the rest of my life. If you pointed out that the sky was a beautiful shade of blue, chances were good she'd stick her hands on her hips and tell you that in no uncertain terms was the sky anything but purple. She had a particularly irritating tone that tended to remind me of my own mother, and a few of my mother's less savory truth-twisting habits beside. She also bossed anyone and everyone who came into her path.

In other words, it was not looking pretty. But if you saw her today, you'd have no clue of the shaky beginning this girl had in the obedience and attitude department.

Jo says thank you about a billion times a day. If she thanks you once and doesn't think you heard her, she will repeat it until she's sure she's expressed her gratitude. As a matter of fact, sometimes she's so thankful for such tiny things that I find myself getting annoyed ("I'm glad you're happy with the apple, Jo. You're welcome already. Just eat it!") Jo is also the queen on checking in with me. I have to tell you, it's an incredible trait in a firstborn, and I am spoiled. I never worry about not knowing where she is, or not knowing what's going on. She also seeks permission for things that most kids wouldn't think twice about. She asks before she uses more hot water in the bath (doesn't want to deny anyone after her a warm soak). She asks before she takes her shoes off when we come in the house ("Are we going back out again soon? Should I just keep my shoes on?") .

She's also responsible to a fault. If you ask her to play with a friends' two year-old, she will bring you any scrap of paper she finds on the floor for fear of them eating it. She will take them on endless tours of the house and will wait patiently while they recap the plot of "Go, Diego, Go" for the fiftieth time.

I wish I could tell you exactly what happened to "cure" her. I think the best explanation is that a whole bunch of things took root and began to grow. Our family started attending church regularly. We started homeschooling. We moved to a new area. She started Awana. My husband's priorities shifted from work being number one on his list to family occupying the top spot. I gave her chores--things to be responsible for--and began holding her accountable in ways I had not previously. And oh, yes: I started praying ferverently that she would become a woman who brought joy into the world.

I guess I got my answer. In spades, as they say.

I have no doubt that Jo will make mistakes. I will get angry with her behavior at some point. Or she will just be led far enough by her frustration to snap in a given situation. She may even go through a rebellious period. Honestly, part of me hopes that she does. Because living with Mary, nice and rose-colored as it is, is sometimes harder than you'd think.

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